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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

fo                            THE GAY GENIUS

surrounding country. For what reason we do not know, Chen asked Su
Tungpo to write a piece, to be inscribed on stone, in commemoration
of this terrace. It was too good a temptation for the young poet to
resist: he had to have his fun. A text prepared for stone inscription
was meant for posterity; it should be solemn, elegant, and even poetic..
Obviously he could not make direct attacks on Chen, but he knew
he could aim little shafts of fun at the old man and get away with
it. And so today the "Record on the Terrace for Stepping on the
Void" reads:

"Since the terrace is situated at the foot of the southern hills, it
would seem that every day one would eat and sleep and live in close
association with the hills, but His Honour the Chief Magistrate was
unaware of their existence. When His Honour Sire Chen was walk-
ing around in the garden one day, he saw hill-tops showing abovd
the trees like the knotted hair of passengers walking outside the wall,
and he declared: 'This is strange indeed!' His Honour ordered a
square pond to be dug in the front part of the garden, and with the
dug-up earth he built a terrace to the level of the house roof, so that
future visitors of this terrace would not be aware that they were
standing on a high place but the hills would seem to meet their eyes
on the level. 'Let this terrace be called the Terrace for Stepping on
the Void,' said His Honour. He told this to his junior colleague, Su
Shih [Su Tungpo], and asked the latter to write an inscription fo-
the terrace. Su Shih replied to His Honour and said: Who can tet
how and when the things of this life rise and decay? When thi
place was a stretch of wild country, exposed to the dew and frost,
and foxes and snakes made their homes therein, who would suspect
that one day the Terrace for Stepping on the Void would be erected
at this place? Since the laws of rise and decay go on in a continual
cycle, who can tell but one day this terrace may once more become a
stretch of wasteland and barren fields? Once I went up to the terrace
with His Honour and looked around. On the east we saw the prayer
temple and springs of Emperor Mu of Chin, on the south we saw
the halls and terraces of Emperor Wu of Han, and looking to the
north we saw the Jenshou Palace of Sui and the Chiucheng Palace o|
Tang. I thought of the days of their glory, their magnificence anJ
everlasting solidity, greater a hundred times than this terrace. Yet,
after a few centuries, travellers over these ruins found only broken
tiles and rubble, and mounds covered with brambles' and fields of
corn. How much more must this be true of the present terrace?
And, if even the solid structure of a terrace cannot last long,how much
more deceptive are the successes and failures and the ever .changing
fortunes of human affairs, It would indeed be a mistake for some